The gastrointestinal tract (GI tract or gut) is an organ system within animals (including us humans) which receives food, digests it, absorbs nutrients and energy and expels the remaining waste as faeces. This GI tract comprises of the mouth, oesophagus, stomach, and intestines and is about 9 metres ( 30 feet) in length.

The connection between our gut and immune system in now well researched and documented. It is estimated that trillions of microbes reside in our gut and it is the gut bacteria that teaches our immune system how to differentiate between body’s own tissue and foreign unwanted substances.

The ‘gut’ feeling

Scientists have also discovered that when there is a change in the composition of the gut microbes, it can cause many diseases. Our gut microbes are thus also in a prime position to influence our emotions and mental health.  Not surprisingly then, anxiety can be linked to stomach problems and vice versa. 

Research suggests that gut bacteria may be affecting our eating pattern through the vagus nerve which connects 100 million nerve cells from the digestive tract to the base of our brain. Thus, we can easily say that Gut is indeed our second brain – and gut decision matters a lot!

Gut bacteria produces many significant hormones for the brain such as GABA-Gamma aminobutyric acid (keeps anxiety in check), melatonin (for sound sleep), acetylcholine (neurotransmitter) and serotonin (happy hormone) among many others. Serotonin has a special significance in mental health. Approximately  90 to 95 percent of the body’s serotonin is manufactured in digestive tract by the gut bacteria. This important chemical helps to regulate our mood and social behaviour, appetite, digestion, sleep, memory and sexual desire. And by consuming food like bran, leafy vegetables, pumpkin, chia seeds and nuts, good gut bacteria can boost the level of serotonin. 

How to glorify the gut?

As gut health  and mental health are greatly interconnected it is important to maintain our gut’s glory by nourishing healthy bacteria. Fruits and vegetables are the best source of healthy microbiota. Their high fibre can be digested by certain bacteria and this ‘good’ bacteria stimulates prevention of the growth of the ‘bad,’ disease-causing bacteria.

Just like we strive to maintain external cleanliness, a clean gut is just as important for our day-to-day as well as long-term health. There are three main tools for keeping our insides clean. Antibiotics rid us from pathogens whereas prebiotics & probiotics promote beneficial flora.

Pro-bios translates to for-life. Probiotics are edible living bacteria that can make us healthier and some probiotic foods are yogurt, kefir, kimchi, pickles,  breads and other fermented foods.  Pre-bios means before-life, and these include foods that pass undigested to large intestine where they feed beneficial bacteria so that they thrive better than bad bacteria.
Fibres and natural sugar are prebiotics that stimulate good bacteria in the gut. Anti-bios means against-life and as the nomenclature suggests antibiotics are our saviours as they kill the bad bacteria which we pick up. However, antibiotics need to be consumed with caution because in addition to killing the disease-causing bacteria their over-consumption kills the healthy ones too and deteriorates our rich gut bacterial environment.

The link between gut health and overall health (including mental health) has been long established and a healthy gut plays a pivotal role in improving symptoms of mental disorders. In essence, eating fermented foods, consuming prebiotics and probiotics, and a fibre-rich diet improves our gut flora and enhancing the right bacterial diversity is the key to glorifying our gut health.

* Handvo (Savoury vegetable lentil cake) image copyright with Jolly Vin

Handvo: A Gujarati One Pot Meal – Savoury Vegetable Lentil Cake 

by Jolly Vin

Serves Two

Ingredients

  • 1 cup rice 
  • 3/4th cup pigeon pea (toor dal)
  • 1/2 cup split and husked black gram (urad dal) 
  • 1/2 cup  split chickpea (chana dal) 
  • 1/2 cup curd 
  • 1 tablespoon ginger-garlic paste 
  • 1 cup shredded vegetables (carrot & bottle gourd or any vegetables of your choice)
  • 1 teaspoon turmeric
  • 1 teaspoon red chilli powder
  • Salt (as per taste)
  • 2 tablespoon oil
  • 1 teaspoon mustard seeds
  • 1 teaspoon white sesame seeds 
  • A pinch of asafoetida (hing)

Method

  • Soak the rice and lentils in a bowl for 5-6 hours. 
  • Grind it into a thick paste-like consistency. Add curd while grinding.
  • To this batter, add ginger-garlic paste, salt, chilli, turmeric and keep it aside for fermentation for 4-5 hours. 
  • Before cooking, add freshly shredded vegetables to the batter.
  • Heat oil and add mustard seeds, sesame seeds and asafoetida in a pan or wok . Then, add the batter in this pan and cover it with the lid. Reduce flame and leave it to cook.
  • After 10 minutes flip the cake in the pan and cook it for another 3-4 minutes till the other side also turns golden brown.
  • Alternatively, the cake can also be baked in the oven at 180° for 20 minutes. 
  • The savoury cake is ready to serve.
  • This dish is rich in probiotics, fibre and protein.
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    • […] food and emotions. What is fascinating is that it also affects how we act and behave! An irritated gut sends signals to the brain, thereby affecting mood, thinking, and memory. Listen to and observe […]

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